Desert Isle Keeper
The Out of Uniform series has been a reliable favorite of mine since the first book, Off Base. That book introduced me to the whole military sub-genre in queer romance, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I wasn’t wild about the last couple of books though, and thought the series was losing steam, but Tight Quarters proved me wrong. Sexy and smart, with two compelling and appealing principal characters, Tight Quarters is a magnificent return to form for Ms. Albert.
After a training mission leaves him injured, Navy SEAL Bacon has two choices: take leave, or babysit Spencer Bryant – an award winning reporter and novelist – while he’s embedded with his unit. Unwilling to take leave, Bacon reluctantly agrees to act as Bryant’s liaison. With his team in transition since the departure of two team members (featured in Wheels Up) and tensions running high, Bacon is wary of a stranger – a curious, inquisitive and smart one – shadowing the team and the worried about the secrets he might uncover. Bacon is pansexual – but he isn’t out to his team – and spending time with a super-hot, single, gay silver fox to whom he’s attracted seems like a recipe for disaster.
Ever since the suicide death of his friend Harry, a special forces veteran, Spencer has felt compelled to learn more about these elite forces and the mental and emotional challenges they face. When his request to embed with the SEALs is approved he’s thrilled, and glad he’s kept himself in shape. It’s clear from the moment he arrives on base that there’s a “Don’t let Bryant be alone a single second” order in effect, but he isn’t surprised; “he wouldn’t want a reporter if he were in their shoes either. It’s also obvious that the SEAL assigned to babysit him would rather be doing anything else, but Spencer expected that too, so he does his best to help set his escort at ease. He can tell Bacon is pleased when he keeps up with the team on a training run, and he hopes that with time, his handsome, tall and muscular liaison will become less stand-offish.
Bacon finds himself warming to the reporter and reminding himself not to let his guard down around him. Bacon has secrets and so does the team, and regardless of his attraction to Spencer, he resolves to keep his distance. Spencer won’t risk compromising his professional ethics by getting involved with Bacon, and he does his best to suppress his attraction to him. Their relationship changes when they’re deployed to the South Pacific and the mission goes awry. Isolated from his team in enemy territory with Spencer, Bacon relies on his training and skill to keep them alive. After a frantic, fast paced trek through the jungle, the pair are forced to wait for extraction; in the long hours they spend waiting, they forge a new bond – one that transcends their attraction to one another, and seems destined to last beyond the mission. Once they’re finally back on base, Bacon is sent to debrief, Spencer is sent home and the Navy informs him they’ll no longer participate in his project.
Spencer might have lost his opportunity to embed with the SEALs, but he isn’t willing to give up on writing Harry’s story. When Bacon tracks him down to his hotel, insisting they do something about the attraction between them, Spencer flies home, he can’t resist him. They spend a passionate night together and when Bacon whispers goodbye in the morning, Spencer is convinced he won’t see him again. But mid-way home, at a pit stop with his parents in Hawaii, he gets an email from Bacon… and eventually the pair agrees to get together when Bacon’s deployment ends.
When Bacon – whose first name is Del (the name he uses whenever he’s with Spencer) – shows up at Spencer’s Los Angeles condo, the reunion is everything both men hoped it would be – and more. Their chemistry is electric – in bed and out; Spencer loves taking care of Del, and Del flourishes under Spencer’s tender affection and care. Both men are superbly characterized, and despite the opposites attract premise, they’re well matched. I loved that Ms. Albert doesn’t belabor their disparate ages or experiences – Spencer grew up surrounded by wealth and privilege; Del lived in fear of a drunken, violent father and joining the military was his escape – but instead shows us two mature men willing to be vulnerable for each other. They cherish each other’s successes and failures, and provide each other with a safe space to be their truest selves. The relationship is intense from the start and they fall hard for each other.
Spencer hasn’t forgotten Harry – or his guilt over his death; Del hasn’t confessed to his team that he’s with Spencer or that he’s pan. These things together, and Spencer’s anxiety about the depth of his feelings for Del, ultimately prove their undoing. Time apart provides much needed perspective however, and allows Ms. Albert to bring the story full circle. Harry’s suicide triggered Spencer’s interest in special forces and their lives post-service, and eventually, brought him to Del. Del’s passion for life is intrinsic to who he is – and is a reaction to the suicide of his closest friend. I loved how the author ties these disparate threads together as she drives the narrative to a happily ever after. Del and Spencer are good men facing a difficult situation and both make mistakes. Their struggles feel very authentic to the story and to ‘real life’ coupledom. Ms. Albert gets right the nuances of this relationship, and the challenges both characters face in balancing their private and public selves, and their work/play time. I was wholly invested in them finding a way forward together – and their eventual hard won reconciliation.
In Tight Quarters, Annabeth Albert breathes new life into an already satisfying series. Del and Spencer are terrific principal characters – their relationship is my favorite in the series… so far. Readers can find much to love in each of the Out of Uniform novels, Tight Quarters is another high note, and with no end in sight, we have plenty of great stories to look forward to.